Junior Test Pilot School Summer Museum Program in session

Photograph by Linda KC Reynolds

Not too young to learn — Northrop Grumman B-2 test pilot Don Weiss teaches children attending the Junior Test Pilot School Summer Museum Program how to build a working altimeter using simple supplies. Weiss also taught children about an aneroid; the importance of a Kollsman Tab, Boyles Law and Charles’ Law. The free summer programs runs through Aug. 3 at the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale.

Water parks and playgrounds are a great place to spend a few hours a day during summer vacation, but how cool is it to hang out with test pilots, engineers and aerospace folks, and make fun projects while learning about science, technology, engineering and math?

During the Junior Test Pilot School Summer Museum Program, running 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday, through Aug. 3, elementary kids can do just that — for free! The program is sponsored by the Flight Test Historical Foundation.

On an average day, approximately 20 elementary aged children come to the Joe Davies Airpark and Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale and make new friends while being inspired to study aerospace by industry leaders. Children are led on a guided tour of the park by Palmdale Aerospace Academy students Daniel Castro and Jerry Lopez, who both plan on becoming aerospace engineers. The young men talk about the weekly theme based on fundamentals of flight and airplanes, while walking with the students.

After the tour, kids then participate in a more formal lesson and have the opportunity to apply the lessons in experiments and hands-on activities.  Afterwards, a guest speaker talks about their job, educational path and the weekly theme. Successfully completing a mission earns the junior test pilots a mission sticker, explained Lisa Brown, creator and writer of the program. She also serves on the board of directors for the Flight Test Historical Foundation.

“Our hope is that this program will offer the students motivation to focus more in school by bringing STEM subjects to life through exploration, learning activities, and application, and to offer a connection with flight test and a career plan for their future,” said Brown, who says she is not an engineer or aerospace professional, but offers her background in curriculum development, instructional design and teaching.

Luckily, her husband, James “JB” Brown, has been very patient with her as she developed the modules and curriculum. Mr. Brown is the chief operations officer and test pilot instructor at the National Test Pilot School at the Mojave Air and Space Port. “He is the real expert and teaches me about each plane.  I just try to break down really technical concepts into lessons which are easy for elementary school students to understand.  Basically, if I can understand this stuff, I know the 3rd graders can!” said Mrs. Brown.

Stephanie Cregier, director of the Junior Test Pilot School Summer Museum Program, dons flight gear with a little help from B-2 Test Pilot Don Weiss. Weiss also showed students what pilots must wear in order to be safe at high altitudes and how to survive when ejecting from an aircraft and landing in water.

Stephanie Cregier, the director for the program, said that elementary children are inspired and many may choose a career path at this young age. “Studies have shown that this is the age children are the most interested in their potential career. We make learning fun and will hopefully inspire children to be involved in STEM and aerospace.”

The gift shop also offers educational models and science equipment from $6-10.

“These items are great presents for birthdays and Christmas,” said Kathy Harfman who volunteers for the program and runs the gift shop. “They help inspire kids of all ages.”

Brown also said she is very thankful for the community’s involvement. “Without the financial support of sponsors and our volunteer teachers, the program would not have happened.”